Skype has long been one of the most popular VoIP options for consumers -- in no small part due to its low cost (free for calls between Skype users and only a few dollars per month to call landlines). Now, it's gaining popularity in the business world as well.
The company has been adding features that make it more business-friendly. Two examples are the Windows Installer/MSI package that makes it easy to roll out the application to multiple machines and the Skype for Business Control Panel that allows administrators to manage all of a company's Skype accounts from a centralized interface. The small business market is especially amenable to Skype's budget-friendly and feature-rich service.
Skype already includes features that make it attractive to business users, including call forwarding and the ability to filter and block unwanted calls. In addition, Skype's conference calling feature lets you have conversations with multiple people (up to 10 participants), mixing participants who are using Skype, regular PSTN phones, and mobile phones.
Another helpful feature is the Skype Me button code that you can embed in your company's Web site or HTML e-mail messages so customers and business associates can call you with the click of a mouse. The company even offers a Skype Buttons Wizard to help you create a custom Call Me button or use one of Skype's standard designed buttons.
And you can do more with Skype than just place voice calls. If you and the person you're calling have computers equipped with Web cams, you can make video calls to get "face time" with coworkers or clients -- without the hassle or expense of traveling.
In addition, the File Transfer feature makes it easier to collaborate with colleagues over the phone; you can send copies of reports, pictures, or other files you need to share -- with no limits on file size. You can also disable this feature via a registry edit if you don't want users to be able to transfer files due to security or privacy issues.
Add-ins that improve functionality
In addition to features built into the Skype software, there are many useful add-in programs that you can download to add functionality and enhance productivity. Here's a look at some of your options.
Skype Office Toolbar
Available from Skype's Web site, this toolbar lets you make calls to names or phone numbers in a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation. After installing the add-in, you can use it to turn phone numbers in the document into links, which you can click to make a voice call or send an SMS message.
You can even send the file you're working on in the Office application to a Skype contact with just a couple of clicks. Please note that there's a slight performance hit with the toolbar installed.
Offering a 14-day free trial, this extension to Outlook allows you to record calls and voice mail to MP3 files and access them from Outlook XP, Outlook 2003, or Outlook 2007. You can call your Outlook contacts over Skype and have your e-mails read to you over the phone.
HotRecorder for VoIP
If you need to be able to record your Skype calls automatically, you can use a third-party program such as HotRecorder for VoIP (HR4Voip). It works with Skype 3.0, as well as other VoIP applications such as Net2Phone, Google Talk, and Yahoo Messenger.
The program allows you to record VoIP conversations (including conference calls); with the Premium version, you can convert conversations into MP3, WAV, or OGG files for easy playback. There's even a recovery tool that you can use to recover a recording if the computer crashes or you lose power during the recording process.
HR4Voip records the parties to the conversation in two different channels and then merges both into one file. You can download a trial version (which limits recordings to two minutes) from the company's Web site. The Premium version costs $14.95. At present, Windows XP is the only supported operating system.
Universal Chat Translator
Today's business world is increasingly international in nature. If you need to communicate with people who speak a language you don't know, you can install the Universal Chat Translator to translate Skype chat conversations and read them to you.
The translator supports 14 different languages, including Arabic, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Dutch, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. It translates the messages you send to the other language and translates your received messages to English. The translation takes place in real time for active chats, or you can translate chats stored in your chat history.
Add-ins that improve collaboration
There are also several add-ins available that you can use to share applications, documents, whiteboards, and presentations. Here are some of the better options.
This Java application lets you share photos, drawings, maps, and other graphical images, and you can also add text captions and other content. It includes a drawing board, and it allows you to create, show, and save multiple boards. Best of all, the basic version is free.
This add-in allows you to conduct interactive Web meetings, sales presentations, Webinars, and more using PowerPoint and Skype teleconferencing. It works with Windows, Windows Mobile, Linux, and Macintosh, and it works with Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari browsers. This service has a monthly fee that depends on audience size, and there's both a demo and a trial offer available on the company's Web site.
This add-in allows you to share your desktop applications with Skype contacts and others, and you can share with multiple users. There's a quarterly or annual fee based on the number of users. Find out more about pricing on the company's Web site.
TalkandWrite Extra for Skype 3.0
This is a document collaboration program that allows two users to remotely work on the same document and annotate it, add text, and more with the changes made by either party immediately made available to both. You can download a free version (limited to 10-minute sessions) or buy a one-month, one-year, or three-year license.
This add-in lets you connect to remote desktops during a Skype call by clicking an icon added to the Skype Contacts and Tools menus. It works with Windows 2000 and Windows XP, and it uses an ActiveX control.
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Deb Shinder is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. She currently specializes in security issues and Microsoft products, and she has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) status in Windows Server Security.
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.